A ‘super’ chat with INH boss Minoru Ikeda!
Since the dawn of time people, animals and things have been embroiled in bettering each other at ‘stuff’. For example, if pre historical fact (and fiction) is to be believed, volcanoes are better than dinosaurs. The Romans built a better UK road network than the grassy, muddy mess that existed before it (and the current road network that sprawls across the UK if you’ve ever paid a congestion charge or sat in traffic on the M25). On August 16, 2009 Usain Bolt ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. This beat the previous world record of 9.74 seconds held by Asafa Powell. This minute difference in times instantly made Usain Bolt better than Asafa Powell.
Then there are video games. I like Raiden III, but it’s hard and I’m rubbish at it. ‘Hattori’ san isn’t though. He can clear Raiden III with one credit. However I forgot to mention something important. Hattori achieved this by playing as player one and two…at the same time. You think I’m stretching the truth? No. It was all caught on tape.
A brief history lesson.
Welcome to the world of the superplay. A strange, sparkly, fantastical world that showcases the obscure, the brilliant and the bizarre. A world that has captured a niche audience to the extent that an extremely niche market exists to cater for it’s niche needs, and the Insanity Naked Hunter (aka, INH Co. Ltd) company is leading the charge for today’s gamers. Pink Bullets is extremely honoured and privileged to take some time out of the busy schedule of Minoru Ikeda, one of the founders of the INH Co. Ltd.
Commercialisation of ‘superplay’ recordings (the term coined for incredible feats of gaming, usually captured to recordable media for all to see) is nothing new. In fact the whole concept of superplay recordings has been around for decades. Most notably in the West under Twin Galaxies, formed in 1981 and keeping tabs on world record high scores ever since. Gamers who were unable to prove their worth in person would send in videotapes of their achievements to be noted and verified by Twin Galaxies for a confirmed world record. However Twin Galaxies operates as a high scores database and not specifically as a commercial venture in the same vein as INH et al.
Some of the earliest known instances of superplay recordings to emerge in Japan surfaced in the early 1980’s, most notably at the dawn of the video game boom and the first affordable recording equipment to hit the home user market. According to video game lore, exceptional players would record themselves playing games and swap cassettes between their circles of friends or at a matsuri. At this point in time the humble superplay was still a showpiece shared between very small groups of friends, it was yet to dip its toe in commercial waters. Two of the very first to commercialise the humble superplay were Pony Canyon and Scitron. Two music and video labels in Japan that specialize in video game soundtracks and superplay titles. Both companies hit the markets with superplay recordings of popular arcade and home titles releasing them on both VHS and Laserdisc formats. Although certainly a niche market, the superplay titles proved successful and several releases followed on both formats right up until their deaths at the hands of the mighty DVD at the turn of the millenium. The doujin scene thrived during this period too, with tapes recorded by the bucketload and swapped and sold across the country with no respite. The doujin superplay scene continues to thrive today with several DVD releases finding their way to market on a regular basis.
However both Pony Canyon and Scitron have been a little quiet on the superplay front since the turn of the millenium, at which point a new face entered the foray, INH Co. Ltd.
The birth of INH.
“INH was founded in 2004 by three members. Ikeda (I), Numajiri (N) and Hirose (H)” announces a jovial Minoru Ikeda. “The company name means the initials of the founding members. Otherwise there is no meaning in particular” (he says with the merest hint of laughter and a smile). From very small beginnings INH Co. Ltd has surged ahead to become a recognised leader of an extremely niche market and at the same time a (hardcore) household name not just in Japan, but with gamers the world over.
Ikeda reveals that INH was initially conceived as a pseudo-preservation project. “Video games and game centres are big business in Japan. However since 1995 the market has been in steady decline. Games made specifically for the arcade began to decline around the same time. I established INH to protect these games” he says, slightly gloomily.
It was in 2004 that the company made it’s impact on the incredibly niche (I’ll be using that word a lot) and (at the time) withering superplay market. “Our first DVD release was Battle Garegga. In addition to the video we produced a booklet and soundtrack package which was well received”. It’s hard to believe it was only 8 years ago but Ikeda continues “social networks like ‘YouTube’ did not exist at that time in 2004 so we had a lot of customers”. It just goes to show how social media sites like YouTube are still in relative infancy yet have had such enormous impact on how we consume media forever a mere 7 years since it’s launch.
Ikeda recalls the struggle just to get the Battle Garegga Insanity DVD on to the shop shelves as he mulls over his favourite titles from the extensive INH back catalogue. “Battle Garegga is close to me, I was heavily involved in the production. Raiden Fighters, Hyper Street Fighter and Fighters History Dynamite are favourites too”. And from the back catalogue, which would prove to be the most popular? Ikeda states that: “The most popular product is the Mushihimesama Secret Lover DVD. This is followed by Hyper Street Fighter II”. Interesting results, not at all what I had predicted!
However it is not all so rosy as Ikeda goes on to say that “subsequent titles hold only painful memories. Financing for INH was hard because it is such a small company”. Which is completely understandable given the size of the market INH is appealing to and factoring in giants Pony Canyon and Scitron that have already released a number of titles to the market. That INH managed to release anything at all, let alone coming to market with a lavish three disc DVD and CD set complete with full colour strategy and art book (referring to the Battle Garegga set) is a miracle in itself.
Japan’s Got Talent.
The question begs though, how did INH manage to unearth such talented players? “The three of us had been working for over 10 years in game centers. I had gathered a lot of contacts when I was working on the game room floor”. Ikeda continues: “We started looking for super players using my contacts. However there were also players who brought us videos of their super play (recordings)”. It is through Ikeda’s contacts and referrals that INH happened upon arguably their most famous super player to date. Ikeda picks up the story: “I met Hattori at a friend’s referral. I think he’s the most beautiful ‘double player’ out there”. He’s not wrong. Hattori’s exquisite Raiden III double play (aka, playing as both player one and player two at the same time) features on their ‘Raiden III: The Flash Desire’ superplay DVD and has reverberated around the world. It’s an epic feat of pure, masterful skill and dexterity of what is an already tough game to conquer. Others have followed since, most notable is an extraordinary Ikaruga double play which takes the whole ‘double play’ genre to an entirely new level. But Hattori san made that crucial impact which was witnessed by so many gamers worldwide and was perhaps (in my humble opinion) responsible for the exposure of the INH brand to a wider-reaching audience.
Speaking of a wider-reaching audience, it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the world caught wind of these lavish DVD box sets only those in Japan (or those really in to the fighting and shooting game scene) were able to enjoy. With their all-Japanese text, all-Japanese audio commentary tracks and all-Japanese subtitles, the INH catalog still remains relatively accessible to the ‘non-Nihon’ literate. Ikeda is aware of this and acknowledges that “(I’ve heard that INH) products have been known to be stronger overseas. Our titles are often covered by media from France and Germany”.
Pictures speak a thousand words and thus simply watching these amazing super play runs (which, let’s face it, is the real fodder of these titles) is usually reward enough to warrant the incredibly high entry fee for INH’s titles. Given that a lot of the back catalogue is of a very small production run, titles sell out quickly and used prices skyrocket pushing already expensive titles almost out of the limits of all but the most dedicated of players and collectors. So is there a chance we could see any INH titles localised and released overseas? “I’d like to achieve this, but at present it is very difficult to do. I think I know why if you look at the comeback (referring to the language barrier -PB) of our interview!” Ikeda says with kind-hearted laughter.
Don’t get too excited just yet then.
The evolution of the super play.
Ikeda takes a moment to reflect on the market change from the now obsolete VHS and Laserdisc formats to the current DVD market (note: this got a little lost in the translation so I’ve done my best): “In the 1980’s to the 1990’s the video game market was booming. However, it was naive at the time to the (actual) contents of the software (possibly referring to nobody taking any notice of super plays as commercial ventures here – PB). That amount (of content) was something splendid. It was private video content (likely referring to doujin superplays -PB) that has been distributed in the heart of the game player community. INH wanted to sell the contents of these private official high quality videos”.
So how exactly does INH capture high quality content for it’s products? “Video game titles often require various types of commercial converters due to their different behavior and individual outputs”. Ikeda isn’t wrong there, take a quick look across several online communities and you will unearth a veritable fiesta of equipment news, reviews and discussion from enthusiasts the world over all seeking to get the very best output and video capture from retro gaming consoles. “We primarily use P-CAST and the Micomsoft XRGB-1” Ikeda says. Interesting choices, especially the XRGB-1. “I have also shot with DV and used an HD recorder to play and convert the footage” he goes on to add. Even the pro’s take the easy option sometimes then!
What about the future? Is it possible INH will embrace the high definition market? Or how about digital distribution for a better chance of seeing INH titles available overseas? Ikeda delivers at least a miniscule glimmer of good news on the high definition front: “There are no plans at the moment, but I do want to manufacture Blu-ray if there is a chance”. However it’s a bit more complex with regards digital distribution as Ikeda points out (note: this also got a little lost in the translation so I’ve done my best) “Video game cheats (a Japanese term for superplays -PB) are evolving every day. Therefore, it is not going to remain in the past (Ikeda is possibly referring to staying with the DVD format for new releases here). Digital distribution is an interesting way to deliver new super plays”. Personally I think that for the market to thrive, digital distribution of INH titles is certainly something that should be carefully considered.
On the subject of the future, Ikeda reveals some interesting projects in the pipeline. “INH is currently working on super plays for the Raiden series and a Toaplan DVD. We will release these if the rights issues are cleared. Please be patient”. Aside from it’s infamous super play products, INH has ventured in to the world of music and currently works together (and Ikeda co-stars) with an incredible tribute band named Heavy Metal Raiden. No prizes for guessing what their favourite game series is then.
I’ve discussed the band Heavy Metal Raiden briefly before. The excellent Mikado game centre in Takadanobaba is an official ticket and merchandise outlet for the band. Ikeda touches on this for a moment “Australian Sato, WASi303, Mr. Sato and Mr. (GO SATO) are all great composers I knew. I can play the guitar too so we formed a band. We were all playing more than three years before we formed Heavy Metal Raiden”. The band play excellent music and as a whole it is an interesting project. It is also good to see INH extending its reach and branching out to other avenues while still holding their burning passion for video games. Even more impressive is how Ikeda san juggles his time between working with the band, running a game centre and managing a busy media company. The mind boggles.
It is thanks to this hard work and dedication that we can all enjoy the superplay videos, and more recently the music, that is lovingly crafted by the INH team for the hordes of fans the world over. It is precisely this devotion from the fans (both in Japan and across the world) that Ikeda san is keen to recognise. “I am very grateful to all the fans of INH. We only survive because of your support. Thank you. Thank you so much for your support”.
You don’t think that’s it though do you? Of course it isn’t! Nobody is allowed to walk away from an interview with Pink Bullets without answering that most eternal and wonderful of questions we ask everyone who graces these humble little pages of the Internet, so here we go:
Q. Ikeda san, what are your top 5 favourite shooting games of all-time?
A. “It is very difficult to choose only five! But here goes… (in no order): Xevious, Gradius, Kyukyoku Tiger, Raiden, Ray Force”.
If you have yet to experience an Insanity Naked Hunter DVD, you can find a few PV’s on YouTube. Purchasing their retail products can be a little trickier as print runs are often low and stock sells out very quickly. You are better off scouring the used market or specialist retailers for older titles, just be prepared to part with some significant sums of money for the rare titles, especially the Battle Garegga premium disc set and book.
Regardless what some might say about the high cost of the products, they really are worth tracking down, especially for the hardcore fans among you. Superplay videos are not only excellent exhibitions of skill but are also great study tools and come highly recommended.
What are you waiting for? There’s some high scores to be beaten!
INH are releasing two new soundtrack albums on October 31. Pre-order from your favourite retailer today!